Why, back in the epochal summer of ’56, did Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis declare it splitsville? Was it the seven (actually 10) year itch? Professional jealousy? Sibling rivalry? The ascendance of Elvis? Lewis’s memoir Dean & Me doesn’t lack for world-historic perspective: “In the age of Truman, Eisenhower, and Joe McCarthy, we freed America,” he begins. “For ten years after World War II we were not only the most successful act in history—we were history.”
Among other things, Lewis reveals that both he and Martin had been lonely kids with rejecting parents, attributing their onstage chemistry to an “X factor” defined as “the powerful feeling between us.” Dean, nine years older, was the big brother he never had. Showbiz savvy Martin protects his naive junior partner on a number of occasions, their intimacy peaking when big bro rummages through little bro’s pubic hair in search of crabs. It’s a hilarious scene with Lewis totally in character, yelling about seafood as Martin applies the tweezers.
There’s plenty of other heartwarming stuff—did you know that Frank Sinatra never called Lewis anything other than “Jew”? (” . . . and I loved it.”) Or that Jerry got all the good reviews, while the critics relentlessly piled on Dean? And while Lewis gave Martin “scores of presents,” Martin never gave him one damn thing in return? So why, other than the fact that (reading between the lines) Dino seemed pretty fucking sick of Jer, did the guys break up? Read Dean & Me to the bitter end and you’ll discover that, so far as Lewis is concerned, they never have. He still dreams about Martin, “maybe once a month” since his death: “He’s almost always young, tan, still unbelievably handsome—indestructible.”